What Climate Change And Obama's Nobel Share

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President Obama is preparing to travel to Copenhagen for the global climate change conference this week, just days after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. These two trips have different purposes, closely timed as they are, and even in the same neighborhood. But they might share some political implications. Host Scott Simon delves into the politics of climate change with NPR news analyst Juan Williams.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

President Obama's preparing to travel to Copenhagen for the global climate change conference this week, just days after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. These two trips have different purposes - closely timed as they are and even in the same neighborhood - but they might share some political implications.

Our friend, NPR News analyst Juan Williams, joins us. Morning, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS: How are you, Scott?

SIMON: I'm fine, thanks. President initially planned to make Copenhagen and Oslo trips in the same week, but he postponed his appearance at the climate change conference for a week. What went into that decision?

WILLIAMS: Well, the thinking at the White House was twofold, Scott. One is that previously, the president was going to go last week and is - going to tie it into his speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. Now, instead of stopping there kind of just to cheerlead and tell the other nations of the world let's go get it - 190 countries represented there in Copenhagen - now he's going to go on the final day.

And so he's going to be joined by leaders like Gordon Brown of Britain, Nikolas Sarkozy of France, Angela Merkel of Germany - all there on the last day. And the idea is to go from the cheerleading model to one in which he could be the element, sort of the catalyst to finalize a deal that would shake the world on climate change.

SIMON: The straw that stirs the drink. Isn't that what they...

WILLIAMS: Sort of.

SIMON: ...used to call Reggie Jackson?

WILLIAMS: Reggie Jackson.

SIMON: Forgive me for descending to sports clich�s. And let me ask you about the Nobel Prize speech, 'cause it surprised a lot of people. Unexpected, audacious, this is a speech that was criticized by Arianna Huffington and lauded by Sarah Palin.

WILLIAMS: It's odd.

SIMON: Well, what's your estimation? What's your analysis?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think it was a very militaristic speech. I mean, you know, picking up on Reinhold Niebuhr, the, you know, the philosopher, he's saying there's evil in the world and even people of good intent seeking justice have to acknowledge that sometimes, you have to fight evil. You had to fight Hitler and today, you have to fight al-Qaida and terrorism.

The question for me is, well, how does that relate to eight years of war that was based on weapons of mass destruction that didn't exist? And what does it say to us about dealing with Iran and their difficulties today? How far will we go with sanctions before we decide that we must take military action?

I felt the kind of difficulty with the speech was, here's a president who is advancing war - two wars at this moment - where is the peace? You know, where is the Martin Luther King? Where is the Mandela, the commitment to non-violence?

SIMON: On the other hand, he's president of the United States, was elected before he became a Nobel Peace Prize winner. If you were watching this speech in Tehran or North Korea, are you left with any doubts that this is a president who is prepared to act in the defense of the United States if he feels it's threatened?

WILLIAMS: I would agree, Scott. But I don't think any president should have any hesitation to defend the United States. The question in my mind is, how far do you go with non-violent action, with diplomacy, with the use of sanctions, etc.? That wasn't this speech.

I think he should've given the speech he gave in Copenhagen at West Point, when he was justifying the vital interest the U.S. has and the continued presence in Afghanistan.

SIMON: There's also going to be a political undercurrent, inevitably, in his Copenhagen speech - not just the politics of global climate change, but what about cap and trade and the fact that he feels that he'd like to get something through the U.S. Congress?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, he's gotten something through the House on cap and trade. Right now, it's delayed in the Senate. You have Barbara Boxer, the chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, having a bill that would slash greenhouse gases in this country by 2017 by about 20 percent, going forward towards 2050 by even 80 percent.

But the Democrats, Jeff Bingaman, the Democrat from New Mexico who's the chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has it hung up, not sure about where to go. And Republicans are uniformly opposed. They say it's a tax on the poor and everybody in the country. And they add that this is the wrong time to do it, because it's a time of recession and 10 percent unemployment.

SIMON: NPR News analyst Juan Williams, thanks so much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Scott.

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